The Five Ranks of Post-Satori Practice
The Five Ranks is a teaching that emerged in Zen from the relentless pursuit of the deepest truths by Zen masters and their observations regarding the “sticking points”, or pitfalls, of the practice.
These Five Ranks describe the progression of post-satori training and are mirrored in many aspects of the tradition (such as the progression of koan study). Let's take a look at at this priceless Zen tradition.
First we need to ask ourselves, “What is Zen?”
Simply, Zen is the complete embodiment of meditative awareness. What is meditative awareness? Our fundamental state of mind, the revealing of oneness with our Budh Nature, which is called Satori. When we experience Satori, we start practicing Zen. Until then, we are practicing meditation and cognitively re-indoctrinating ourselves according to a value system that we believe has the potential to improve our lives.
[Rank One: The Apparent within the Real]
We enter into the Five Ranks with the moment of satori. Satori is seeing our true nature. This nature is Pure Selfless Awareness. Within this unconditioned unfolding of direct experience, we understand that we are a biochemical-mechanical-neurological matrix undergoing a constant state of change according to the feedback of our senses, thoughts, and emotions.
Here things seem to lose their meaning and we enter into a trance-like state describing all of the physical phenomena as just “illusions”. The realization of the “absence of anything existing in itself” and the meditative states associated with it are blissful, serene and tranquil. This is what is known as Seeing the Absolute, becoming “One with the Universe”.
But this is just the beginning!
[Rank 2: The Real within the Apparent]
Zen is not to waste away in trance-like meditation; withdrawn from the world or engaged in meaningless intellectualization. Zen looks to apply the realization of this Universal Life to each moment of our day-to-day life, thoroughly understanding, transforming and transcending all of our greed, violence, and ignorance. Stopping with the realization of the Absolute we can’t help but be confused: “If this is an illusion, why does it hurt when I stub my toe? Why do I feel sad and angry and become envious? I still need to eat, but the food isn’t real?”
So, with our head spinning from this realization of direct experience it is back to the cushion. Back to the study. Back to the practice. Chop wood and carry water. Here in this world of the senses. Here we begin to see the real (absolute) is in the apparent (phenomenon). The world that just dissolved around us begins to re-emerge as a myriad of manifestations. We are interconnected and interpenetrating, phenomena are a mirror that reflects the nature of our mind and our mind perfectly reflects the nature of phenomena.
[Rank Three: Coming from Within the Real]
Now that we see clearly for ourselves, we again may find a resting point. But, this too isn’t Zen completed. Why? Because it’s for ourselves and it’s ignorant of the interconnection and interpenetration of all life. With a deep connection to the Absolute, we once again engage with society and community, allowing this fundamental compassion and morality to guide our actions, reform our relationships and act as a beacon for fellow man to seek their own resolution to the Great Matter of our personal liberation.
[Rank Four: The Arrival at Mutual Integration]
As we continue to refine this Light and allow it to shine into every facet of our being, our relationships, and our daily life we further realize the depth of interconnection between all things. Subject and object, this and that, gradually become THIS. Just THIS! This process is called mutual integration and results in the refinement of our person and the transcendence of all our delusional behavior.
[Rank Five: Unity Attained]
When this process is complete, the slightest stink of being a “Zen” man is removed and we realize the Sagacity of simply Being. The complete conscious embodiment of wisdom and compassion, utilizing skillful means in each moment to demonstrate the Path of liberation.